Collis Birmingham wins the 2009 Zatopek 10,000m in Melbourne (Getty Images) © Copyright
General News Melbourne, Australia

Birmingham and Wellings take Zatopek 10,000m titles; rain restricts World Champion Samuels in Melbourne

Collis Birmingham put two things right in winning the annual Emil Zatopek 10,000 metres. First, he translated his good road form onto the track; and, second, he finished the race.

Taking the second matter first: Birmingham wanted to put the memory of his failure to finish the World championships 10,000m behind him. In Berlin, to his acute embarrassment, he pulled out of the 10,000 three-quarters of the way through the race. He had never seen the notation ‘dnf’ beside his name before, and he could offer no real explanation as to why it had happened. It just did, and it hurt.

Birmingham came into last year’s Zatopek as favourite, too, after finishing third to Haile Gebrselassie and Patrick Makau, and ahead of Craig Mottram, in the Great Australian Run 15k. In the Zatopek, however, he was a well-beaten fourth behind the surprise winner David McNeill, Bobby Curtis and Michael Shelley.

This year, Birmingham went even better in the road 15k, finishing second in a personal best 43:19. Unlike last year, however, he carried that form into the Zatopek, running away from Ben St Lawrence, Shelley and Jeff Hunt over the final two laps (McNeill dropped back with a side cramp with seven laps to go and finished 11th).

“I got a bit excited,” Birmingham said of his reaction to last year’s road form, “and I trained a bit hard.” So hard, in fact, that he ran a personal best for a fartlek session just two days later.

“This year, I just went back to Falls Creek and cruised round for a week. I wanted to come here and win the race, not like the last time,” Birmingham said in a reference to Berlin. He is now likely to find himself in the happy position of having a choice of events at next year’s Commonwealth Games in New Delhi.

Birmingham ran 28:04.14, a solid performance given the cold and wet conditions, ahead of St Lawrence, 28:05.73, and Shelley, 28:13.13. The race was for the national championship and the win, he said, was more important than the time.

Wellings comes back yet again

The 10,000 metres is an endurance race and Eloise Wellings is an enduring athlete. The 27-year-old always seems to be coming back from injury, usually a stress fracture. She crowned her latest return with the national title and by adding her name to the prestigious list of Zatopek winners.

Wellings always looked good in a pack piloted for a long way by Nikki Chapple, and she shadowed last year’s winner Lara Tamsett when she took the lead with 480 metres to run. After a spirited battle, Wellings prevailed in the final 200 metres in 32:19.08. World championships marathon 18th placegetter Lisa Weightman nipped Tamsett on the line to take second, 32:20.14 to 32:20.39.

“I can’t believe it, I didn’t expect that,” said Wellings.
Wellings has worked on her strength as her latest tactic to overcome the injuries that have bedevilled her career. One favourable omen for the immediate future may be that 2006, the previous Commonwealth Games’ year, was Wellings’ best. She was fourth in the Commonwealth 5000, ran 14:54 and 8:40 in Europe, and was highly competitive on the circuit.

Other events

World Discus Throw champion Dani Samuels must think the rain is following her around. She was elated with her performance in the rain-interrupted Berlin final, she won after all, but not so happy after a twice-delayed competition here which saw her winning distance restricted to 59.94 metres.

“I know I can throw better than what I produced tonight,” she said.

Ryan Gregson won the U20 men’s Robert de Castella 3000 metres in 8:02.56, his first win after several attempts at the race and also beating Michael Power’s race record.

But the outstanding junior did not have it all his own way, with James Nipperess clinging to his heels until the final straight before finishing second in 8:06.11.

Olympic representative Mitch Kealey got the better of World Championships ‘rep’ Jeremy Roff in the men’s 1500m, while Bridey Delaney had her first victory over World University Games silver medallist Kaila McKnight in the women’s event.

Seventeen-year-old Demi Wood went from last to first to win the U20 women’s 3000 metres, which is named in honour of Australia’s greatest female marathoner Lisa Ondieki.

After finishing last in the 2008 race, Wood vowed to return and do better. She certainly did that, winning in 9:31.26. She is the daughter of Grenville, an Australian marathon representative at the first world championships in Helsinki in 1983.

Len Johnson for the IAAF